10 Years Later..
“Ramona, so help me! If you don’t stop stealing your cousin’s toys I’m going to sick Aunty Ember on you, and you know she won’t hold back.” I shouted from the kitchen, craning my head to look over my shoulder where I locked eyes with my dashing mate.
Asher was leaned against the wall, his arms downright bite-able in the fitted t-shirt he wore. He brought the beer in his hand to his mouth, lips twisted in a knowing smirk that had me contemplating a fourth child.
If this man doesn’t calm down, we’re going to have to hire a second nanny.
He returned his attention to Zeke and Brandon as though our little heated exchange hadn’t occurred. On cue, Ramona let out a shrill scream that quickly morphed into pulses of erratic laughter. A familiar pang of longing hit my chest as it did every time I heard my daughter’s laugh.
She sounds just like Mom.
Ember’s monstrous roar emerged from the living room, followed by a cacophony of giggles from the other children. There were so many you’d think we were building our own army. A soft tug to my apron drew my attention downward, to Maven’s sweet smile and head of dark hair.
“Mom, you’re going to burn Granny’s custard. Here, let me do it.” I stepped aside and watched as Maven took control, stirring the bubbling mixture and scraping the spoon around the edges of the pot. He cranked the heat down just a hair and tossed in a dash of salt.
The grief in his voice made my throat constrict as a knot began to build. No matter how hard it was, I swallowed the tears that threatened to fall and pasted a loving smile on my face.
It had been one month now since Grandma had been called back home by the Moon Goddess. Much like with everything else in life, she had known it was coming. I think in a way we all did. She’d been surrounded by her family and friends when the time finally came and her spirit slipped away, guided by her oldest friend, her wolf. There hadn’t been a dry eye in sight, but the hardest part was explaining things to Ramona and Maven.
The two of them had adored their great-grandmother, but it was Maven that formed a special connection with her. Mere hours after her passing, we found a book of all her recipes atop his bed. Baking was something they often did together, and as the years passed and Maven’s skill qrew, I knew it was because of her.
There was something else Grandma had taught Maven-something we only recently noticed. Maven was using magic.
For all intents and purposes, it shouldn’t have been possible. In the entire history of Witchcraft there had never been a male witch, but I knew what I had seen and so did Asher. After careful planning and lengthy meetings with Tessa, Ember, and the others, we decided that the best course of action was to send Maven to the Magisterium. More than anything, though, I wished I could’ve asked Grandma about Maven and his budding magic.
For some reason I wasn’t sure I’d ever understand, fate saw it fit to grant my wish.
The night Grandma slipped away, after I’d cried my heart and soul into Asher’s chest, I found myself in the grove where ten years ago I said a final goodbye to my brother. Grandma was there, standing in a way that made me wonder if she’d been waiting for me.
She had changed, but in the best of ways. Time no longer weighed her town, tugging on her shoulders and warping her posture. Her face was free of lines, but still held all of the wisdom she’d bestowed on everyone she came in contact with.
“He is special, Lola. Ramona too. Protect them, my dear, and the wonderful life you have built. Watch them usher in a new era, and never forget how much I love you. Until we meet again, sweetheart.”
After watching her walk into the mystical grove Sean had vanished into all those years ago, I awoke in bed surrounded by Asher’s arms, cradled in his embrace.
Tears streaked my face and as I looked up, I found myself staring into his open eyes.
“She’s gone, isn’t she?”
It wasn’t just grief that weighed on my heart, but happiness. Joy. Grandma wasn’t gone.
No, she had just gone home.
Now, as I looked into the eyes of my son, my body thrumming with the pure love I had for my family and friends, I understood that sentiment more than ever. Maven cocked his head the way I’d seen Asher do thousands of times. “What’s wrong, Mom?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. You’re pretty amazing, you know that? Granny left her recipes in the right hands.”
I said, ruffling his hair. The proud tilt to his lips reminded me of myself, even if his demeanor was more like Asher’s. A small squeal came from the living room, standing out amongst the other maelstrom of noises. “Think you can handle it from here while I check on your brother, Mave?”
He puffed out his chest, which was made even more adorable by the smear of powdered sugar on his cheek.
“I’ve got this.”
Before I could slip into the living room where chaos awaited, I was pulled into Asher’s arms. The sparks hadn’t lost their intensity, even after all this time. They were the one thing that renewed my energy when life started pulling in too many directions.
Asher smirked down at me knowingly before planting his chin on top of my head.
“How’s fatherhood suiting you, Brandon?” I teased. Brandon took a long swig of his soda. There were some dark circles beneath his eyes, but it wasn’t due to his drinking habits. No, Brandon had given up alcohol a long time ago. These circles had a life of their own and went by the name: Niko.
“Oh, you know. I absolutely love only getting three hours of sleep a night.” Despite his complaints, there was a twinkle in his eye whenever he spoke of Ember and the baby.
Zeke barked out a laugh, slapping Brandon on the back.
“Aw come on, Beta. You should be used to these long hours by now. Don’t tell me I’m going too soft on you.
You’ll get used to the lack of sleep, man. Besides, isn’t it worth it?” Brandon glanced towards the living room where little Niko sat bundled in his Aunt Tessa’s arms. There was an almost dreamy quality to his expression when he said, “yeah, it is.”
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m dying to see if little Niko is going to inherit his Momma’s magic.”
Zeke grinned, rocking on the balls of his feet. Brandon cast him a look which he shrugged off. “I know, I know. Boys don’t inherit magic, but you’ve seen Maven over there. If he’s inherited his mom’s magic, who’s to say Niko won’t inherit Ember’s?”
Asher and I locked eyes, and even though neither of us said anything, there was an odd sort of understanding that passed between us.
I shrugged. “The times are changing. It makes sense that Werewolves, Witches, and Vampire’s might change along with it.”
With that in mind, I slipped out of the kitchen and into the eye of the storm.
Toys were strewn about, varying in age level. A sea of Lego’s blocked my path, eying my feet with obvious hunger. I avoided those death traps at all costs. Next were the toy trucks and action figures, most of which were missing limbs, courtesy of Ramona, or covered in thin vines, courtesy of Tessa’s little girl, Willow.
“Lola! Look at what I painted.” The voice of my half-sister, who had just celebrated her ninth birthday, rang out from across the living room.
Her curly hair, the same warm shade as Flora’s, was a tangled mess around her shoulders as she parted the sea of toys and vicious children with a sheet of paper in hand.
She didn’t give me the chance to glance down before shouting, “Do you like it? It’s me and you!”
Sure enough, there were two hastily painted figures, one taller than the other. Both had long hair, though the taller figures was dark and pin-straight. I smirked at the golden crown she’d added to both our heads.
“Princess Daisy has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” I winked, causing her to giggle. “I can either put this on my fridge or if you want, you can hold onto it for me. Daisy eyed her artwork with obvious interest before reaching for it slowly. “I think I’ll keep it, but I’ll make sure it stays extra safe!”
As Daisy pranced away to continue painting, I scanned the obnoxiously crowded living room for the newest addition to the family. Luckily, our house had plenty of space to accommodate so many people and children, something I’d never take for granted.
On the extra-large sectional that divided the living room in two was my dad and Flora. Dad had his arm around her slender shoulders, while my youngest sat on her lap.
Wyatt’s baby blues found my face and his chubby cheeks puffed out as a grin took over his face. He squirmed on Flora’s lap, thrusting his hand in my direction to point at where I stood.
“That’s my mommy.” He squealed.
Wyatt hadn’t yet shown any signs of magical abilities, but now that we knew male Witches were a possibility, I was keeping my eyes peeled.
“How’re you doing, kid?” Dad asked, his gruff voice hiding almost all traces of his obvious sadness. I pegged him with a smirk. “I haven’t been a kid in over ten years, dad.”
“You’re always gonna be a kid to me, kid.” His chest trembled as he chuckled. The humor that twinkled in his eyes was fleeting, though. As it faded, so did the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes. “Really, though.
How are you handling all of this? How’s the twins?” I glanced over at Ramona, who bore resemblance to both me and my mom. The only thing she got from Asher was his eyes and his temper. She was in deep conversation with Ember, both of them speckled with mud, which made sense considering the back door was wide open.
“They’re doing as well as can be expected. They understand what death is, but it’s permanence. As for me, I’ll be alright. It’s.. different without her here, though.” I stumbled over my words, feeling young and out of place. Thirty-two years old and I was still stumbling through life.
Dad patted my hand, covering it with his own. “You’re doing an incredible job, Lola. Not just as a mom, but as a Luna and a Queen. There’s always gonna be times where you feel lost, but you’ve got family here to help keep things on track.”
A heavy ache settled in my chest. “You’re going to make me cry if you keep sweet talking me, and then Wyatt’s going to cry.”
All of our attention was drawn to Clara and Mason’s daughter, Iris, when her twinkling laughter sounded from across the room. She’d been playing dolls with Tessa and Zeke’s daughter when the three-year-old Witch made flowers sprout along the carpet. One of them worked their way into Iris’s curly hair, it’s petals unfurling as it blossomed.
“Willow gave you a flower, Iris.” Clara said brightly, looking over her shoulder to share a laugh with Mason. With his parents watching from the end of the couch, Vincenzo called out, “can I have one?”
“Sure!” Iris replied.
One of the flowers, which resembled a lily now that I stood closer to them, vanished in a puff of shadow. It reappeared several feet away, resting in Vincenzo’s palm.
While Breyona and Giovanni laughed, fawning over their little boy’s display of magic, Holly and Tristan’s daughter skipped into the room. In her arms was a tea set, which she plopped down on the floor and started sorting through.
“Aunt Lola?” Odette called out. “I made us rose tea!”
“Rose tea. How’d you know that’s my favorite? Who told you?” I exclaimed, sharing a smirk with Holly. Tristan hovered at her side, his expression soft as he watched Odette play. It had been years since I’d seen a true Scowl on his face.
Sinking into the couch, I watched the kids play and marveled at how quickly they seemed to grow.
Grandma’s absence was palpable, a force that lingered in the room like a noxious cloud. That was the grief speaking, though. I knew more than anything that Grandma was here, just not in the way we wanted.
Half an hour passed when Maven charged into the living room. The oven mitts on his hands were huge, swallowing both of his forearms.
“The cookies are ready!” He announced proudly. Just then, his foot hit one of the many toys strewn across the floor. The toy truck he kicked unleashed a howl, it’s headlights flashing. As Maven’s balance was compromised, time seemed to slow.
The tray of cookies in Maven’s hands went soaring, while Maven himself was carving a path straight to the floor. I lashed out with my magic, an act that was now second nature after all these years of training. Just a small pulse was needed, a wave of energy that surrounded Maven and kept him from falling, depositing him back on his two feet.
Before I could save the sheet of cookies, they vanished in a plume of inky shadow. They didn’t remain gone for long, though. Vincenzo looked all too proud of himself as the sheet of cookies reappeared on the coffee table.
Right as food was being served the others showed up. Deacon and Bridgette sauntered in through the front door with their son Elias in tow. Dina and Spence came next, followed by their son Dante. Even Claire and Killian made it in time.
There was thirty-one of us in total. Twenty adults and eleven children. Dinner was absolute chaos, but there wasn’t a second that passed where I wasn’t enjoying myself.
After everyone’s stomachs were full and the sun had drifted down the horizon, we herded the children outside and into the backyard. The youngest ones, Willow, Wyatt, and Niko, were placed in a playpen where they could watch tonight’s ritual.
Every single one of us, children and all, were given a white pillar candle. All it took was a single speck of my magic to make each one ignite, the flame dancing around the large circle we stood in.
“Tonight we preform a ritual meant to honor the dead and to celebrate the lives of those who’s spirits touched us the most. It was almost twenty years ago that Ember and I preformed this ritual for our parents.” Tessa began, her voice silencing the excited giggles that came fr0m the kids.
As the final remnants of light faded from the horizon, leaving behind a sky cloaked in darkness and speckled with silvery stars, Ember stepped forwards and began.
“Those of you who have magic, release it into the air. Let it fill the circle we stand in. Let it’s beauty give thanks to the universe and the Goddess herself.”
What happened next was nothing short of incredible. The shadows slithered from the forest, gathering at the edges of the circle. They pooled around my feet and around the feet of Ramona, Breyona, and Vince.
A pulse of magic exploded from my fingertips. Shimmering orbs of golden light winked into existence, gliding through the air like a swarm of lightning bugs.
They circled my shoulders, but it wasn’t just me they seemed attracted to, but Maven as well.
All along the ground flowers sprouted, petals of various shapes and colors unfurling to release a melody of sweet scents into the air. Roses and daffodils, flowers that glowed under the cloak of night. There were hundreds of them.
A crackle of pure electricity hit my ears, tickling my skin as it radiated from where Clara stood at my side. Even she seemed surprised at the power she possessed.
The candles we held in our hands flickered, their flames exploding in a myriad of color that changed with the passing seconds. Their glow was reflected on our faces, a rainbow of light and laughter that affected both child and adult alike.
I’d never seen anything so beautiful.
As silence rang true once more, I knew it was my turn to complete the ritual.
“I call on the one’s lost, but never forgotten. The old and the young. The one’s who were taken too soon, and the one’s that left us when it was there time. I call on the one’s who fill our heart with strength and our soul’s with love.” The thunderous beat of my heart matched the tempo of my words and the soothing river of magic I poured into the air. “Come to us! Come to us in this final goodbye.”
What happened next was something I couldn’t quite put into words, even decades later. The magic I wielded was old, ancient even in it’s prime. It was a subtle magic, the kind that transcended the planes of existence and delved somewhere deeper, somewhere untouched.
Gasps rang out amongst all of us, and as my eyes swept along the others, I realized it wasn’t just Grandma I had called on.
“Mom. Dad.” Breyona croaked, her hand covering her mouth.
“Ember, I can feel them. I can feel our parents.” Tessa cried out; her arms secure around her twin.
“Good to see you again, old friend.” I swore I heard Deacom murmur.
“My son.” Dad said hoarsely, followed by Flora’s broken whisper. “Mom.. is that really you?”
I looked up to the sky, to the full moon that hung above our heads. It could’ve been my imagination, but I swore it was larger and brighter than I’d ever seen it before.
“Thank you.” I said quietly.
With those two words I was met with a swell of love that filled my body with unending warmth. The sincerity behind it brought another swell of tears to my eyes.
I had so much to thank the Moon Goddess for. We have the rest of our lives to thank her.’ Maya, my wolf and oldest friend, reminded me.
“That we do.’
With a gust of magic, we said our final goodbyes to the ones we’d loved and lost along the way, knowing that someday we would meet again.
Until then, we would live.